Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner), working for the Federation and the Son’a, is observing the peaceful people of the Ba’ku from an invisible blind. But he appears to malfunction and reveals himself to the observed ones. Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerpe) contacts the Enterprise for Data’s schematics to stop him but does not want the ship to come. The crew decides to disobey these orders and to capture Data themselves. They discover that the Ba’ku have more advanced technological knowledge than the Federation supposed, but they have rejected that for a low-tech life. Because of Metaphasic Particles in their planet’s rings they leave extraordinarily long and healthy lives. The Son’a, however, are a decrepit species who survive through technology and cosmetic surgery. Once on the planet, Georgie’s (LeVar Burton) sight improves, Riker and Troi (Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis) rekindle their romance, Worf (Michael Dorn) appears to be going through Klingon adolescence, and Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) finds himself involved with the Bak’u matriarch Anij (Donna Murphy).
Data and Picard find a submerged and cloaked Federation ship containing a holodeck recreation of the Bak’u village. Data’s malfunction was an attack from the Son’a after he found the ship. Picard realizes that the Federation had a deal with the Son’a to relocate the Ba’ku, allowing the Son’a to strip the particles from the ring for use by the Federation. Dougherty orders the Enterprise to leave, but Picard refuses.
He is joined by some of his crew to prevent the Ba’ku from being removed by force, while Riker takes the Enterprise outside the radiation-drenched Briar Patch nebula so he can inform Starfleet Command of the collusion. The Son’a send robotic probes to beam the people up to the Son’a ship. The leader of the Son’a, Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham) sends ships to attack the Enterprise, but the Enterprise escapes.
The scheme uncovered, Ru’afo begins to harvest the radiation source immediately, which will kill everyone on the planet. Picard, Anij, and several Ba’ku are transported as prisoners to the Son’a ship. The Son’a and the Ba’ku, it seems, are the same species, the Son’a being a splinter faction who gave up their bucolic life long ago for technology. They were exiled from the planet and its rejuvenating effects. So, the Federation turns out to have taken sides in a civil war, a clear violation of the Prime Directive. Admiral Dougherty backs out of the agreement and Ru’afo kills him.
Facing execution, Picard convinces the disillusioned Son’a second-in-command Gallatin (Gregg Henry) to help him. Picard manages to stop the particle harvesting, and Ru’afo transports to the harvester to restore its power, but Picard follows and sets the harvester to self-destruct. Ru’afo dies and Picard is rescued by the Enterprise. The remaining Son’a are welcomed by the Ba’ku and the crew of the Enterprise leave, restored and rejuvenated.
Jonathan Frakes directed, as he had with First Contact. Patrick Stewart was pleased with the light feeling of the movie, showing the crew having a good time, and his own romance, though much of it was cut. Michael Piller wrote the script and it was reviewed by Ira Steven Behr, and Stewart added a bit. The music by Jerry Goldsmith is quite beautiful and dramatic. F. Murray Abraham was a Trek fan and was pleased to be cast as the villain without an audition. Arnold Schwarzenegger was offered the role and turned it down. One wonders what they are thinking sometimes. Trek needs good actors in guest roles, but without publicity baggage.
Wilford Brimley and Gene Hackman were offered the role of Admiral Dougherty. Patrick Stewart wanted his friend Brian Blessed to play the part. Blessed is on the waitlist for a trip to the International Space Station and has trained for 800 hours. Sally Field was offered the role of Anij and fortunately did not accept. Donna Murphy is wonderful in the role, calm as a philosopher, seemingly young but with the eyes of an Old Soul. Critical response to the film was mixed, a come-down after the well-received First Contact. The movie was supposedly influenced by The Seven Samurai (1954). In case you don’t despise the Son’a enough, they produce Ketracel White, the narcotic used by the Dominion to control the addicted Jem’hadar soldiers in Deep Space Nine.
Rick Berman and makeup artists visited plastic surgery clinics to see surgery performed, but I feel certain that much of it was influenced by those scenes in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. This was the only use of the Captain’s Yacht in the movies. The cloth on the back of Picard’s chair in the Ready Room was given to him by the Mintakens in an episode of The Next Generation “Who Watches the Watchers?” in which a Starfleet anthropological duck blind appeared. Originally Picard was to kill Data, but Stewart refused. Spiner wanted to die in the movie because he was getting older and the makeup was not good enough to keep him looking like an android. His script came with a note saying Better Luck Next Time, and he was told Kill You Later, quoting Captain Kirk’s aside to a Klingon prisoner in The Search for Spock. In the next movie, Data got to sacrifice himself and go out in a literal blaze of glory. But in the later series, Star Trek: Pickard, Data re-appears looking quite android-like.
Patrick Stewart said he would have removed the Ba’ku. I suppose the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but immortality is not a need, it is a curse, as a glance at science fiction, including Star Trek, will show you. Anyway, audience-logic dictates that Picard and his crew will help the threatened little guy instead of the galaxy-wide bureaucracy. Of course, once it is revealed that the struggle between the Son’a and the Bak-u is an internal struggle, Admiral Dougherty’s case is moot. Anyway, do we believe that the immortality harvested at the expense of the Ba’ku would benefit everyone, or would it end up benefitting the rich and powerful? Lifespans vary; the Vulcans live hundreds of years longer than most, thanks to centuries of mental discipline eliminating worry, ignorance, and anger, the sources of premature death for most of us. Leaving the Ba’ku alone, actually, is not enough; the planet will have to be quarantined. Once word gets out, a trillion people will want to move in and the Ba’ku will be finished.